What is Fear? Helpful Tips To Confront & Overcome Your Fears
The quickening of the pulse, the tightening of the chest, the raising of the hairs on the back of the neck. These are some of the symptoms. Why do our bodies react in this way when all we want is merely to speak our mind or get that spider out of our home? Is having our voice heard really such a dangerous thing? And is that little spider really such threat? What is at the root of these physiological reactions? What is fear?
The answer varies depending on who you ask. Google’s dictionary defines it as, “an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.” But that doesn’t explain the dread that even a supportive audience can elicit, or the terror we feel when faced with that tiny powerless spider.
Science blog “How Stuff Works” goes a little bit further, saying “fear is a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals […] a racing heart, fast breathing and energized muscles, […] the fight-or-flight response.”
Rumi, the 13th century poet and mystic, tells us simply that, “fear is the non-acceptance of uncertainty.” He didn’t stop there, “if you accept that uncertainty” he added, giving us a way out, “it becomes adventure.”
So maybe there is a way around the feeling. Maybe paralyzing fear can be morphed into exhilaration and excitement, but how?
Tip 1: Figure Out What Your Fears Are
It may sound obvious, but the first step to overcoming a fear is figuring out what you’re afraid of. Emotions don’t always make sense. Sometimes all we know is “it doesn’t feel good” but if we can figure out what our fear relates to, specifically, we know what we’re confronting. Our adversary becomes defined and tangible.
Imagine you’ve stumbled across an exciting opportunity. You’ve made a pitch or put in an application for a new job. Now your phone is ringing and it’s an unknown number. This could be about your dream job but you’re scared to answer it. What is the uncertainty that you don’t want to accept?
Maybe it’s that you don’t know who is on the other end of that call and you feel unprepared. Maybe you’re scared it’s bad news and your hopes might be crushed. Maybe you’re scared it’s good news and then what? What if you can’t deliver what you promised? There’s all sorts of reasons a call might cause fear, or even a mixture of reasons, and that’s okay.
What’s not okay is letting that fear get in the way of all the wonderful things you could do and who you have the potential to be. Be honest with yourself about what is actually causing your fear and look at it. To acknowledge your fear will help you move past it. Once you can pin that overwhelming feeling to a particular obstacle you have the ability to overcome it. All it takes is a little courage.
When you tell yourself “I don’t know, I just have a really bad feeling about this call”, it leaves things out of your control. Once you know “I’m scared that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew”, it’s a lot more manageable. The uncertainty is that you might have taken on too much, or you might not. Now all you need is the courage to find out.
It can be difficult to acknowledge our fears, even to ourselves. They might be embarrassing or silly, so we pretend they don’t exist but it’s not the wisest strategy. If you ignore your fears, if you don’t look at them, they can sneak around and surprise you when you’re least expecting it. Keep an eye on them so you always know what to look out for.
Tip 2: Fear Setting – Get Certain About The Uncertainty
If you find the thought of ‘accepting uncertainty’ terrifying in it’s own right, you’ll be pleased to know there are ways to reduce the uncertainty. Tim Ferriss, the author and podcaster, uses a method called ‘Fear-setting’. It’s an inversion of a goal-setting process that helps you prepare for uncertainty and overcome your fears; the very things that prevent us from reaching our goals in the first place.
The fear-setting process has 3 steps. Here’s an example to demonstrate them. Let’s imagine you want to show your business plan to a mentor and ask for feedback but you’ve been putting it off because it frightens you.
In step one you look at each fear in some detail. Create a table with three columns; define, prevent and repair. Under the define column you list all the things about the action that scare you. For example, your plan might be so bad that your mentor laughs.
Under the prevent column you list an action you could take to eliminate that fear or at least reduce the risk of that particular outcome. For example, you could research common errors people make when writing their first business plan and check if you’ve made any of those mistakes.
Under the repair column you imagine the fear has happened and you list what action you would take to repair the situation or recover from it. In the case of the laughing mentor you might try searching for a different mentor who is more compassionate and understanding about your insecurities. This first step helps you figure out how risky this action really is and whether you could live with the worst case scenario.
In step two you think about what you have to gain. In our example, you might gain valuable insight into how to improve your business plan. You could receive a lot of information in a short time that is tailored specifically to you and your business. You might experience a confidence boost when learning which parts of your plan are strong. Step two allows you to measure the risk of the scary action against its potential.
In step three you imagine a future where you don’t take this action or any action like it. What would the result be in 6 months, a year, 3 years? You probably haven’t started a business. You have your plan in the bottom of a drawer and you haven’t shown it to anybody. What’s more, three similar businesses have since opened their doors. Step three allows you to measure the risk of acting against the risk of not acting. It poses the question “can you afford not to take this action?”
Tip 3: Power up with love, or whatever has meaning for you
Fight feelings with feelings. Acknowledge your fear, feel it, then overpower it with all the love in your heart.
Mothers have been known to face terrifying ordeals to keep their kids safe. That love drives them to do things they would never otherwise be capable of. Many draw on faith and a love of God to get through hard times and face what frightens them. What has meaning for you? Use this to strengthen yourself, to power up. Let what you care about move you to action, even when you’d rather hide under a duvet.
This one is also a good sense check. For a fear to be worth overcoming it should have some connection to what is important to you. If the things that are important to you don’t motivate you to face your fear it could be that facing this fear isn’t actually that important to you. In that case, consider focusing your energy on what DOES motivate you.
Tip 4: Keep going
It gets easier. The more you face what terrifies you the easier it becomes, the easier it becomes, the more you can handle. Every time you face a fear you learn more about what you need in order to get through it and every time you get through it you prove to yourself that you can.
I’m currently living in Italy but I only speak about six words of Italian. It sounds ridiculous but you wouldn’t believe the terror I felt the first time I went to the supermarket by myself. If I couldn’t find the tinned pineapple I wouldn’t know how to ask. If somebody spoke to me and I didn’t know how to answer them they might think I was rude. That was the most terrifying of all. Could I live with that? Could I genuinely go home and be at peace with myself knowing that a stranger somewhere in the middle of suburban Italy thought that I was rude? I acknowledged these fears and made a plan.
Firstly, I learned one phrase that would help me explain myself. Non parlo Italiano – I don’t speak Italian. At least then if I appeared rude I could explain why.
Next, I mustered up the courage to go to the supermarket. I drew power from my profound love of food to motivate me. I knew there was the very real potential that I might have to leave the supermarket without tinned pineapple slices but I accepted that uncertainty and as I did I felt a strange lift of excitement in my chest. This was no ordinary visit to a supermarket. This was an adventure. I told myself I would deal with the lack of pineapple if it happened.
“You’re a survivor,” I said, “and you’ve faced worse things in your life.”
I found the pineapple in the end and paid for my items without too much difficulty. There was a man who spoke to me as I was walking out. From the context I think he was offering me help with my bags.
“Non parlo Italiano” I said and he left me alone. I didn’t die.
I’ve been here three months now and I go to the supermarket two or three times a week. I haven’t died on any of those visits. Every time I complete my grocery shopping without dying I feel more confident.
I’ve learned that “Ho borse, grazie” means “I have bags, thank you” and “Buona giornata” means “Have a good day.” Please is “Per favore” and “Scusami” means “excuse me.” Pretty soon the whole of Italy is going to know just how polite I really am. I’ve also learned that “Pineapple” is “Ananas.” I never can remember the word for tin though… I’m sure I’ll get there.
Keep going Future Females. We’ve got this!
Rahma is a freelance writer, who recently moved from corporate to shape up her own venture! She is passionate about personal development, storytelling, women’s empowerment and hiking.